Friday, February 8, 2008

How to have a great time

We’ve entertained or been out every day this week – Lisa’s Dad on Wednesday, out at Sam’s last night and Lisa’s Mum is coming for tea today. We were going to be out tonight at John’s birthday, but he’s ill and has cancelled – a pity because it would have been nice for he and Kathy to meet George.

George is sleeping less and less well. He’s been waking up every night inconsolable and his breathing sounds awful.

And, yes, we only lasted two days after being told we didn’t need to go to the hospital before we panicked and took him to the Doctor’s yesterday. We were told he was fine, of course and that there’s nothing they could do.

However, that doesn’t get us any sleep. Lisa’s up most of the time but I’m taking over from her sometimes. It’ll be my turn to take most of the burden over the weekend – which I’m not looking forward to.

Anyway, hopefully, he’ll sort himself out soon and we can all get some rest.

How to have a great time
I’m editing my latest documentary right now. It’s about the science behind travel between the stars and you’d think the subject would be pretty free of philosophy and have nothing to do with our lives on Earth.

However, what’s striking about the people I’ve interviewed is it’s not true. What comes through in the interviews is a real sense that there’s a higher purpose – a noble idea that there’s more to life than our petty day-to-day concerns.

There’s a quote by Osca Wilde: “we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars” and the people I’ve interviewed are quite definitely looking at the stars.

This seems odd when the main criticism leveled at astronomers, space mission workers and theoretical physicists is that what they do is not a benefit to the world. “why are we spending all this money looking for life on Mars when we can’t even feed our people on Earth?”.

And it’s a fair point.

However, as a defender of theoretical physics and the space race, I have to disagree…

The most common defense is that blue-sky research does throw up real benefits to mankind – penecilin was discovered by accident and without the space programme we wouldn’t even know about the greenhouse effect.

However, I think that’s not why I defend it.

We could all devote our energies to ending hunger – to stopping global warming – to the huge problems that face our world – and it’s hard to escape the argument that we have a duty to do that.

Of course if we did – if everyone dropped everything to deal with the biggest problem on our planet (whatever that turned out to be) then it would probably be solved – and then tomorrow, all the things that got dropped would have turned into crises at least as big as the problem we solved.

However, even that’s not my real defense.

You see, I don’t believe the problem with the world is that our positive energies are focused on the wrong things. I don’t think it’s the fact that we’re all spending time and money building spaceships or playing football or making art instead of saving the world that’s the problem.

I think the problem is that our positive energies aren’t doing anything.

There’s a saying that if you want something done you should ask a busy person. And I think it’s true – people who see great purposes and think of themselves as playing a part in them don’t tend to just work on one – their enthusiasm allows them to apply themselves to many.

You could argue that it was because DaVinci saw art as a noble purpose that he had the energy to see science as one as well. That it was because Bill Gates dealt with the big themes of the world in his business life that he had the vision to give it all away to charity.

Likewise, you don’t get periods in our history where humanity is just great at art or literature or just great at science or even just great at politics or humanity. When we’re great we’re great – all around.

When there’s an atmosphere of greatness, when they’re living in a Great Time, people look around and see opportunities to be great. They find them in every corner of life and they rise to them. We raise or lower our eyes depending on where the rest of the world is looking.

So it’s not a choice between funding and working towards space and funding and working towards the end of hunger.

It’s a choice between seeing a bigger purpose and going for it – whatever it is – raising yourself – or not using your energy, not looking at the stars, but focusing only on getting through the day and collapsing in front of the TV at the end of it.

The problem is not that we don’t have the resources – that we’re so strapped for time, energy and cash that we have to choose between competing great purposes – it’s that we can’t muster the enthusiasm for ANYTHING. Once we do – we can take on everything.

Don’t fret, then that you don’t devote yourself all day every day to solving global warming or world poverty. As long as you’re looking at the stars you’ll find a way to make a great time.

If I can convey some of the enthusiasm of the people I’ve interviewed in this documentary – as well as trying to get the physics across – I’ll think I’ve done a good job.

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